Jernej Barbič – internationally recognised Slovenian innovator

A fascinating range of innovations

Jernej Barbič, Death Valley, US. Photo: archives

October 2011

Jernej Barbič has been selected for the prestigious award listing him among the world’s 35 top young innovators for the development of a method that enables real-time simulation of deformations of complex objects, such as large buildings, trees, internal organs of the human body and mechanical systems, for example aircraft and automotive engines. The method can be used in the film industry for special effects, in medicine in simulators for training surgical skills, in mechanical engineering for expeditious design of components used in the aviation and automotive industries and for computer games.

Generous help to Slovenians to succeed abroad

Barbič has also written an online guide which describes his experience and findings from his preparation for post-graduate studies in the US. The online guide was developed to help all Slovenians hoping to enter post-graduate studies abroad who do not know where they can obtain the necessary information. The guide has already helped many of them enter the best universities in the US and Canada. If he were to decide again, Barbič says, he would without doubt take the same path. Many undergraduate study programmes in Slovenia, for example those in mathematics and physics, are in his opinion comparable to the top programmes at the world’s best universities. As regards post-graduate study programmes, however, he says that American universities have the edge because of their direct contacts with American industry, with the US still the world leader in the computer science industry.

A path from Slovenia to the US

Jernej Barbič comes from Kozmerice, a small village a short distance from Most na Soči. He first showed signs of his special talent as a small boy, when he taught himself to read. Later the Dušan Munih Primary School in Most na Soči and the Tolmin Grammar School provided him with an excellent basis for upgrading his knowledge. At the latter he excelled and was champion in both mathematics and French. His idea at first was to move to France and become a writer. But later he decided to study mathematics. He finished school as a ‘golden graduate’ in the first generation of graduates of the new secondary school examination programme. At the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics his grade point average was a staggering 9.96. His ambitions then made him decide to study abroad, because 10 years ago it was difficult to make a career in computer science after graduation in mathematics in Slovenia.  He therefore continued his studies as a postgraduate student of computer science at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he obtained his PhD. At that time, the US was facing a recession and employment opportunities at universities were severely limited. However, owing to his excellent research results, Barbič succeeded, and from 400 candidates he was given the position of lecturer at a distinguished private university, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. He is the author of nine research articles published in the world’s leading science magazines in the fields of interactive simulations, numerical mathematics, computer graphics, optimisation and physical modelling. He has also written reviews for more than 20 international computer science magazines.

Drive safer, fly faster, cheaper and more economically

Currently, Jernej Barbič is negotiating with the French company Haption, one of the leading developers of haptic interfaces, which enable movements in virtual environments while at the same time giving the user a sense of touch. This is particularly important in surgery, where a surgeon must sense the force between the scalpel and the tissue into which he is cutting. For the foreseeable, Barbič wants to keep lecturing while continuing his research work in his laboratory. His aim is for his methods to be used in industry. What will make him happiest is when one day his high-quality research work and innovative mind enable us to drive around in safer cars and fly at higher speeds, cheaper and more economically!

Text by  Marko Šiška, Sinfo 10, 2011